Friday, August 22, 2008

Giving the Pacific press predators a taste of their own medicine

It took a while - and some fairly barbed promptings from annoyed journos over at the PIJO google group - but eventually PINA awoke from its slumber and slammed the latest act of censorship by the regime against the media. But this apparently isn't enough for some of the irked scribes who reckon the Pacific media is under the biggest threat to its freedom since, well, forever! So PINA dissidents sparked by the tireless energy and inspiration of Jason Brown and others have come up with their own ginger group, Pacific Freedom Forum. A statement was widely distributed, including on Malia Sio's Pcfjrno's webblog. The idea is for this group to not muck around waiting for some politically correct statements from PINA - if a statement even gets out - but to act promptly next time somebody like Fiji Times reporter Serafina Silaitoga (pictured) gets hauled in by Big Brother. They want to get in smartly to put the squeeze on Pacific press predators. One amusing statement from the new chair of PFF was a gentle poke in the direction of Pacific Media Watch, which has been keeping an incisive eye on the region's media for 12 years or so - in fact, since the 'Tongan three' were tossed in the slammer for "contempt of Parliament". (The jailing was ruled by the Supreme Court to be an illegal act and Kalafi Moala, pro-democracy MP and publisher 'Akilisi Pohiva, and Taimi 'o Tonga subeditor Filokalafi 'Akau'ola were set free). Susuve Laumaea said:

"There's something else that keeps making noises out there and purports to represent the same - or almost the same - agenda PFF is pursuing. It's called Pacific Media Watch."

Actually, not correct. As co-founder of Pacific Media Watch with Peter Cronau in 1996, I stress that our initial objective was to start developing a media freedom resource for the region at the University of Technology, Sydney, and our first campaign was in support of Kalafi and co. (a petition of more than 100 journos around the Pacific called for their release). Since then, PMW established a website on c2o community server in Sydney (no longer updated since April 2008) and the entirely voluntary service has now been taken over by AUT University to develop as a DSpace digital archive. This collection is being expanded to include audio, video files, Pacific media theses, book chapters and regional media documents and resources - all available free on a creative commons licence. An ideal resource for j-schools. More than 5000 files are part of this archive and are in the process of being loaded. In other words PFF and PMW have quite different briefs - but complementary in the struggle against the predators. Good luck to both!
Sifting through all the rhetoric over the Fiji media issue, University of the South Pacific's Shailendra Singh has produced the most thoughtful piece - an overview of a history of repression against the scribes. Bainimarama's crowd is just the latest bunch of authoritarian gatekeepers and certainly not the most sophisticated.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Reinado's death - shoot-out or execution?

Are the murky circumstances of the killing of East Timor rebel leader and cult hero Alfredo Reinado and a top henchman starting to unravel? Did they die in a shoot-out with security forces during a presidential assassination attempt - as the authorities would have us believe - or were they executed?
An autopsy report points to their execution, rather than being shot by security forces during a presidential assassination attempt, according to Paul Toohey in The Australian. His report was widely picked up by international news services and monitoring agencies. The autopsy showed rebel soldier Leopoldino Exposto was shot once in the back of the head at "close range" following the February 11 assassination attempt on President Jose Ramos-Horta, according to The Australian.
Reinado, the 42-year-old army major who led a rebellion against the former Fretilin government, was also shot and killed at Ramos-Horta's presidential compound and four bullet entry wounds showed he was also shot at extreme close range. "There were multiple complex gunshot wound (sic) on the left face surrounding the left eye, base of nose, upper cheek and forehead with laceration and blackening of the skin," Reinado's autopsy said.
Reports of executions by security forces could stoke fresh tensions in the fledgling country, where ethnic tensions are still raw. Interviewed by Radio New Zealand, Toohey ran through various scenarios alleging the Australians, Indonesians and other foreign hands in the deaths.
East Timor has been unable to achieve stability since its hard-won independence, with the army splitting along regional lines in 2006, triggering violence that killed 37 people and drove 150,000 from their homes. Reuters reported:
The autopsy said burning and blackening around Reinado's wounds in the eye, neck, chest and hand suggested he had been shot at a distance of less than 30 cms, rather than by guards standing 10 metres away, which is the official version of events.
"Burning and blackening is a feature of very close-range shots, probably from less than a foot away. If you see burning and soot-type burning, it indicates that the barrel of the gun was very close to the skin's surface," David Ranson, of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, told the newspaper.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Ramos Horta was critically wounded in the assassination attempt and he spent two months recovering in Australia, where he was flown for life-saving surgery.
The attack also targetted Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who escaped injury.
The autopsies were conducted by forensic pathologist Muhammad Nurul Islam, who wrote that Exposto and Reinado were killed with a high-velocity rifle. Nurul said Reinado's wounds featured "blackening/burning" especially so in his left eye, where the marks covered a large 10cm x 9cm area, possibly indicating a point-blank shot.
New Zealand's Defence and Foreign Affairs Ministers Phil Goff Goff and Winston Peters said they were awaiting briefings on "new and possibly dangerous developments" in Timor-Leste.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Kidnap - Ces betrayed and now suspended

Coinciding with the AMIC media conference in Manila last month, the main Filipino television network ABS-CBN ran a gripping documentary about the abduction of one of the country's top journalists and her television crew by Abu Sayyaf guerillas in the southern region of Mindanao. Called Kidnap, it was mostly in Tagalog with a smattering of English but it should be mandatory viewing for any journos working in conflict zones. The Philippines remains one of the most dangerous countries for journalists. Cecilia "Ces" Drilon, a popular figure with Filipinos for her fearless reporting of rebel and guerilla showdowns, held the nation in suspense with her nine-day ordeal in June in which she and her two hostage camera crew and an academic guide were threatened with being beheaded. After being freed by their captors, Drilon admitted that “betrayal” led to their abduction in Sulu. In a press conference at a resort in Zamboanga City after being set free, Drilon said: “There was some betrayal involved kaya kami nakidnap (that’s why we were kidnapped).” She repeated these claims in a tearful interview in the Kidnap programme without indentifying who betrayed them. While thankful that the captives were freed after the payment of a ransom by the family, one of the ABS-CBN news excecutives, Maria Resson, praised the crew's courage but admitted that the TV channel had suspended Drilon because the crew had defied company protocols in dealing with rebels.
In Kidnap, Drilon also admitted that she expected "somebody's head to be chopped off" and she was prepared to die. Her colleagues said they go would go with her again on any assignment, anywhere.
The documentary also aired secret footage of the captors by cameraman Jimmy Encarnacion. Assistant cameraman/driver Angelo Valderama was released earlier. The peace advocate-guide was Professor Octavio Dinampo. The footage was used to identify at least two of the teenaged captors who have subsequently being arrested. Indanan mayor Alvarez Isnaji, from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and his son have also been arrested and accused over the kidnapping.
Meanwhile, the Philippines state has created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao after six years of dialogue in an attempt to bring lasting peace to the island of Mindanao.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Up close and personal with a Subic tiger (or two)

After the angry rumblings over Anwar Ibrahim's sudden arrest in Malaysia over more trumped up politically-inspired allegations (a celebrated speaker at last year's AMIC in Singapore, he was freed before delegates had time to issue a protest) and sessions on regional abuse of media freedom, the conference wound down with a series of R & R visits outside Manila. I chose Subic Bay Freeport to check out the development given that 19 years ago I was a journalist covering the international Peace Brigade protests about US presence at Subic and at the Clark Air Base. It's certainly an extraordinary and controversial attempt to turn a military base through "volunteerism"into a tax and duty free zone like Hongkong or Singapore. Former colonial power Spain established an arsenal and ship-repair facility at Subic Bay in 1885. But the US took over after the Spanish-American War and turned Subic Bay into a US Navy and Marine base. It was critically important during the Vietnam War as the base of the Seventh Fleet. After protacted protests after the ousting of Marcos, the Philippine Senate finally rejected US terms for extending the lease of the base. Sadly, the memorial outside the SDF headquarters honouring the 12 senators who were key to giving the US the boot from the base has been poorly maintained. Four of the plaques have vanished altogether. The last US warship, USS Belleau Wood, slipped out of Subic Bay on November 24, 1992. Most interesting for my visit was the nature and marine parks that have been created. A minor drama for our small AMIC group was feeding a couple of aggressive tigers in the "tiger safari" park. We were well-protected, of course. Instead of humans visiting the zoo, it was more like tigers being up close and personal with humans inside caged vehicles.
Pictured include Pacific Media Centre director David Robie, Angie Chew of AMIC (rear) and Zulkarimein Nasution of Universitas Indonesia (right).

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